Latest News

ESA Studying New European Launcher Needs

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Jul-2012 (Updated: 27-Jul-2012 06:24 AM)

The European Space Agency (ESA) has awarded two study contracts to look at what new launch vehicle it should develop as part of its New European Launch Service (NELS) initiative.

Europe currently offers launch services on three launch vehicles:  the large Ariane 5, the medium-class Soyuz, and the small Vega.  What new vehicle or vehicles are needed to meet future demand is the subject of two feasibility study contracts ESA awarded to one team led by MT Aerospace in Germany and another by Astrium ST in France.   The studies began this month and preliminary results are expected in September as input to the upcoming ESA ministerial meeting in November.  ESA's governing Council of Ministers meets every three-four years to make major policy and programmatic decisions.

The 12-month study contracts are intended to define the future European launch service sector in response to requirements developed by ESA in consultation with European governments and telecommunications satellite operators.

Former NASA Administrators Griffin and Frosch to Address NRC Committee Tomorrow

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 25-Jul-2012 (Updated: 25-Jul-2012 06:57 PM)

Former NASA Administrators Robert Frosch and Michael Griffin will share their views on NASA's future tomorrow at a meeting of a National Research Council committee tasked with providing advice on NASA's strategic direction.

Griffin and Frosch are two of the six living former NASA administrators.  Three others -- Jim Beggs, Dick Truly and Sean O'Keefe -- shared their views at the last NRC committee meeting.    Dan Goldin, the sixth, is not yet listed as addressing the committee; its next meeting is August 6-7 in Irvine, CA.

The NRC committee is responding to a statement of task emanating from language included by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) in the FY2012 appropriations bill that includes NASA to provide advice about NASA's strategic direction.   Other individuals who will speak with the committee tomorrow include the following.  The meeting is at the NRC's Keck Center, 500 Fifth Street, NW, Washington, DC. 

  • Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA AA for Human Exploration and Operations
  • John Grunsfeld, NASA AA for Science
  • Industry Panel
    • Jim Maser, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne (representing AIAA)
    • Michael Lopez-Alegria, Commercial Spaceflight Federation
    • Frank Slazer, Aerospace Industries Association
  • Lee Stone, Labor Management Forum and NASA Council of International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE)

The agenda for the meeting is posted on the NRC's website.

Editor's note: in the interest of full disclosure, I am a member of this NRC committee.  The agenda is posted on the NRC's public website.


Marshall Institute Meeting on Potential Impact of Sequestration on Space Industrial Base Tomorrow

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 25-Jul-2012 (Updated: 25-Jul-2012 09:43 AM)

The Marshall Institure and the Space Enterprise Council will hold another in their "Day without Space" seminar series tomorrow.  This time the topic is the potential impact of sequestration on the space industrial base.

Many aerospace companies and organizations are hammering home the message of what sequestration could do to the aerospace industry and its workforce if it goes into effect on January 2, 2013.  Last year's Budget Control Act requires sequestration at that point in time if agreement has not been reached on an alternative method of reducing the deficit by $1.2 trillion over the next nine years.  Under sequestration, approximately 8 percent across-the-board budget cuts would be made to just about every government agency categorized as discretionary spending, including the Department of Defense, NASA and NOAA.

In particular, the industry wants Congress to realize that under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Act (WARN), companies must notify employees of mass layoffs 60 days in advance, a deadline that is fast approaching.   The companies want the issue resolved before then.

Lockheed Martin President Robert Stevens told the House Armed Services Committee last week that his company would have to send out WARN notices to as many as 10,000 workers, but he has no idea what workers would be affected since he has no details on where the cuts would be made and, of course, Congress and the White House might find a way to avoid sequestration entirely before January 2.  

The meeting tomorrow is at 1:00 pm in 2325 Rayburn House Office Building.  Speakers are:

  • Greg Keeley, Vice President, Intel & Homeland Policy at TechAmerica
  • Leslee Gilbert, Vice President at Van Scoyoc Associates, former House Science Committee Staff Director
  • Steven Bucci, Senior Research Fellow, Defense and Homeland Security, at the Heritage Foundation

More information is on the Marshall Institute's website.

Sally Ride Loses Battle with Cancer

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 23-Jul-2012 (Updated: 25-Jul-2012 09:12 AM)

Former NASA astronaut Sally Ride died today after losing her battle with pancreatic cancer. A physicist, Dr. Ride was the first American woman in space and spent the rest of her career encouraging girls and young women to pursue science careers.

Ride was among the first group of NASA astronauts to include women in 1978. In 1983, she became the first American woman to fly in space on the seventh space shuttle mission, STS-7. She flew a second time on STS-41G in 1984. She was assigned to another mission, but it was delayed following the 1986 space shuttle Challenger tragedy.

Ride served on the presidential commission that investigated the Challenger accident and afterwards was assigned to NASA headquarters to look at the future of the space program. The 1987 "Ride Report" recommended a return to the Moon and, someday, journeys to Mars, but cautioned that Mars missions should be a step, but not the next step, for the U.S. program. Her report also recommended a Mission to Planet Earth, which popularized the phrase as describing a long term series of robotic earth observing missions that came to include NASA's Terra, Aqua and Aura spacecraft.

Ride left NASA soon after the report's completion to return to academia. Her marriage to fellow astronaut Steve Hawley ended in divorce about the same time.

In addition to academic posts at Stanford and UC San Diego, she founded Sally Ride Science to motivate girls and young women to study science.

She also was a member of the commission that investigated the space shuttle Columbia tragedy in 2003, the only person to serve on both space shuttle accident investigations.

Today, Sally Ride Science said that Ride had "the rare ability to understand the essence of things and to inspire those around her to join her pursuits." It added that "In addition to Tam O'Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years, Sally is survived by her mother, Joyce; her sister, Bear; her niece, Caitlin, and nephew, Whitney" as well as the staff of Sally Ride Science and many friends and colleagues.

Many people and organizations are posting tributes to Ride, including NASA, her ex-husband Steve Hawley via NASA, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Aerojet Parent Buys Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, Boley New Aerojet President

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 23-Jul-2012 (Updated: 23-Jul-2012 01:38 PM)

July 23 must be a good day for mergers and acquisitions.   In addition to the announcement earlier today that DigitalGlobe and GeoEye will merge, GenCorp announced that it is acquiring Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne (PWR). GenCorp is the parent company of Aerojet, until now a major PWR competitor.

GenCorp Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Scott Seymour said the combined company would be "better positioned to compete in a dynamic, highly competitive marketplace, and provide more affordable products for our customers."    GenCorp will pay $550 million to acquire PWR, financed with a combination of cash on hand and issuance of debt.   The acquisition must obtain regulatory approval and is expected to close in the first half of 2013.

PWR and Aerojet are the major U.S. producers of rocket engines among other business lines.

At the same time, Aerojet announced that Warren M. Boley Jr. will become its new president on August 20, 2012, succeeding Seymour who also had served as Aerojet's president on top of his GenCorp duties since April 2010.    Boley spent 27 years with the Pratt & Whitney business unit of United Technologies Corp. and most recently served as a Director of Boley Tool and Machine Works, Inc.

GeoEye and DigitalGlobe To Merge

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 23-Jul-2012 (Updated: 23-Jul-2012 01:16 PM)

The two U.S. commercial remote sensing satellite comanies, GeoEye and DigitalGlobe, announced this morning that they will merge. 

Coincidentally or not, the announcement comes on the 40th anniiversary of the Landsat land remote sensing satellite program that opened the era of civilian satellite remote sensing of the Earth's resources.  An attempt to privatize Landsat in the Carter and Reagan Administrations failed, but opened the door to the commercial satelite remote sensing satellite business of today that provides imagery with much better resolution than Landsat.

DigitalGlobe and GeoEye each announced that the two companies would combine in a stock and cash transaction valued at about $900 million.  The combined company will retain the name DigitalGlobe.  The intial board of directors will have 10 members, six from DigitalGlobe and four from GeoEye.   Jeffrey Tarr will continue to President and CEO of the new DigitalGlobe.

The fate of the two companies has been the topic of much speculation since the Pentagon made clear in recent months that it would not provide as much funding to them as earlier expected.   The government is a major customer of both companies, which provide satellite imagery with resolution less than half a meter.   The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), which manages the EnhancedView contract through which it purchases imagery from the two companies, notified GeoEye last month that it would be funding only three months of the next 1-year contract option unless it received additional funds from Congress and would not be contributing its share to building the next GeoEye satellite.


Events of Interest: Week of July 22-28, 2012 - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Jul-2012 (Updated: 23-Jul-2012 08:32 AM)

UPDATE:  The Senate Commerce Committee's Wednesday hearing on the International Space Station has been added in Group 2.

ORIGINAL STORY:  The following events may be of interest in the week ahead.  The House and Senate both are in session.

During the Week

The House and Senate are in session this week and next.  They both then will have a 5-week recess during which the Republican and Democratic conventions will take place. When they return in September, the House will meet for legislative business for only eight days while the Senate will meet that month for three weeks under the current schedule.  That is how much time they have to make decisions on funding for FY2013, which begins on October 1.   Including the defense appropriations bill that passed last week, the House has passed seven of the 12 appropriations bills, including the one that funds NASA and NOAA (the Commerce-Justice-Science bill).  The Senate has not passed any.   Amid much speculation on the end-game for FY2013 appropriations and the chilling possibility of a sequester, the truth is that there are as many opinions as people to ask.  All we know for certain is that time is getting tight.

Meanwhile, the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) and its committees will hold meetings in the coming week at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center to provide advice and recommendations to NASA on the agency's activities.  Monday and Tuesday are committee meetings as a prelude to the full NAC meeting on Wednesday-Friday.   Most if not all of these meetings can be "attended" virtually through teleconference and WebEx.  Details are in the notices.  Since there are many NAC-related meetings, we have grouped them together below (Group 1) rather than intermixing them with other meetings occurring this week.  A blended listing is available on our right menu under Events of Interest.

NAC is not the only advisory committee gearing up to help NASA.   On Thursday and Friday, the National Research Council's Committee on NASA's Strategic Direction will meet to continue its deliberations as part of a congressionally-requested study.

Also, three meetings that are open to the public are planned to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Landsat land remote sensing satellite series.   The first Landsat -- then called the Earth Resources Technology Satellite-1 (ERTS-1) was launched on July 23, 1972.  The four-decade data set and ongoing collection of 30-meter and 15-meter data provided by these satellites have a large and vocal user community.  Landsat has had a tumultuous programmatic history, however, and its future beyond the launch of the next in the series, scheduled for early next year, is up in the air.  The Landsat meetings are listed with other non-NAC meetings of interest in Group 2 below.

Group 1:   NASA Advisory Council (NAC) meetings at Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD

Monday-Tuesday, July 23-24

Tuesday, July 24

Wednesday-Friday, July 25-27

  •  NAC itself

Group 2:  Other Events

Sunday-Friday, July 22-27

Monday, July 23

Tuesday, July 24

Wednesday, July 25

Thursday, July 26

Thursday-Friday, July 26-27

Thursday-Saturday, July 26-28






House Passes Defense Appropriations, Speculation Continues on End Game as Aerospace Industry Worries

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Jul-2012 (Updated: 20-Jul-2012 01:22 PM)

The House passed the FY2013 defense appropriations bill (H.R. 5856) yesterday, approving $606 billion -- a core budget of $518 billion plus $88 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations including the war in Afghanistan.

The total for the core budget is $1.1 billion less than what the Republican leadership wanted.   Many House Republicans are seeking to exempt defense spending from budget cuts and want to add money above the President's request despite their fervor to reduce the deficit. House Democrats largely support the President's position that defense must shoulder its share of budget cuts along with non-defense programs.  Politico called Republican support for cutting the $1.1 billion from what their Republican colleagues initially sought "a modest but still important turning point in the budget wars."

Congress continues to wrangle over how to deal with government funding for FY2013 and deficit reduction in general.  

Discretionary government spending remains under threat of substantial cuts on January 2, 2013 according to the terms of last year's Budget Control Act (BCA).  Referred to as a "sequester," if Congress does not change that law or reach a compromise on how to reduce government spending by $1.2 trillion over the next 9 years, an approximately 8 percent cut will go into effect for all government agencies categorized as discretionary spending, including defense, NASA, NOAA and most other government agencies familiar to the public.  The estimated $109 billion in cuts would be split equally between defense and non-defense spending and implemented on an across-the-board basis.  Often called a "meat axe" approach to budget cutting, that means every discretionary government activity would be cut by that percentage rather than allowing agencies to prioritize which programs are most important and allocating funding accordingly.  The cuts also would have to be absorbed within 9 months instead of 12, since FY2013 will already be 3 months old by then.

Mandatory government programs including Social Security and Medicare, as well as veterans benefits, would not be affected by the sequester, although a 2 percent cut to Medicare payments to physicians is part of the package.

The sequester was included in the BCA as a "poison pill" to force Congress to reach a compromise on reducing the deficit on the premise that its effect would be so dire that Congress would do anything to avoid it.  That did not work.  Republicans remain intransigent that deficit reduction be accomplished through spending cuts alone, while Democrats remain intransigent that tax increases must be part of the solution.  White House officials say the impact of a sequester would be catastrophic to the nation's economy and insist that Congress must find a solution.  

The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) has been hammering home in many venues what a sequester would mean to the aerospace industry.  Most recently, it released a report from George Mason University (GMU) on the expected economic impact of the sequester on the country.  The report does not contain specific numbers for how much DOD or NASA or NOAA would be cut or how many aerospace industry jobs specifically might be lost, but concludes that it would cost 2.14 million jobs overall.  AIA President Marion Blakey stated that the report shows "sequestration is not just a defense problem, it's an American problem" and called upon "our leaders in Washington" to fix it.

At a House Armed Services Committee (HASC) hearing this week, Lockheed Martin President Robert Stevens, Pratt & Whitney President David Hess (who also is chairman of AIA), EADS North America Chairman and CEO Sean O'Keefe, and Williams-Pyro President Della Williams warned about the impact of the sequester on their defense-related businesses.  Stevens said the impact would be "devastating" and the "very prospect of sequestration is already having a chilling effect on the industry."  He gave a "seat of the pants" estimate that Lockheed Martin might have to lay off 10,000 workers, but stressed that he had no idea which workers they might be since he has no details on what programs would be cut by how much.  He and other witnesses stressed that companies must comply with the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act to provide 60 days advance notice of plant closings or mass layoffs, so must know very soon what to expect.  Otherwise those notices will have to be sent even though Congress ultimately might reach a deal to avert the sequester.

FY2013 begins on October 1 and despite House passage of the defense appropriations bill, final action on that and the other 11 appropriations bills is unlikely before then.  Conventional wisdom is that agreement on FY2013 appropriations and deficit reduction will have to wait until a lame-duck session after the November 6 elections to see who wins the House, Senate and White House.   Typically agencies are funded by Continuing Resolutions (CRs) at their previous year's levels until agreement is reached.  In a politically charged environment amid sharp disagreement on where and how much to cut, a rancorous standoff over a potential government shutdown this fall is a definite possibility.

Some conservative House Republicans reportedly are sufficiently opposed to a shutdown standoff for fear of political backlash, and to a lame duck session at all, that they are suggesting passage of a 6-month CR to kick FY2013 funding decisions into next spring.  House and Senate Republicans and Democrats and the White House agreed to cap government spending at $1.047 trillion for FY2013 in the BCA last year, but House Republicans reneged on that agreement in March, passing a Budget Resolution setting a lower cap of $1.028 trillion instead.  To get agreement on a 6-month CR, these concerned House Republicans apparently are now willing to support the $1.047 trillion figure instead of their lower cap at least for the duration of the CR.   What would happen after that is anyone's guess.

For that reason, a 6-month CR is not good news for government agencies.  A Damoclean sword would hang over their FY2013 spending plans until final agreement was reached in spring, half way through the fiscal year, adding yet more uncertainty.

Japan Readies for Launch of Cargo Ship to ISS on July 20 EDT--update

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Jul-2012 (Updated: 20-Jul-2012 10:23 PM)

UPDATE:   HTV-3 (Kounotori-3) was successfully launched at 10:06 pm EDT on July 20.  


As America celebrates the 43rd anniversary of the first human landing on the Moon tomorrow, July 20, it can also celebrate the current era of international cooperation in human spaceflight as Japan launches its HTV-3 cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) where it will be met by an international crew of American, Russian and Japanese astronauts.

While the lunar Apollo program was a testament to U.S. engineering prowess, more recent human spaceflight programs have relied on international expertise.   Europe's Spacelab module was a significant part of the space shuttle program and the space station program was international virtually from the start, with Europe, Japan and Canada officially signing on in 1988.  Russia joined in 1993.

Japan's Aki Hoshide arrived aboard the ISS earlier this week along with American Suni Williams and Russian Yuri Malenchenko.   They joined Russia's Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin and NASA's Joe Acaba who already were aboard.  The six are now implementing "Expedition 32" in the ISS's 11th year of permanent occupancy by international crews. 

They will welcome four tons of supplies being delivered by Japan's HTV-3 cargo spacecraft, or Kounotori-3, in the coming days. 

Launch is scheduled for 10:18 pm tomorrow night (Friday) Eastern Daylight Time, which will be 11:18 am July 21 local time at Japan's Tanegashima launch site.    NASA TV will cover the launch live.    The spacecraft is scheduled to dock with the ISS on July 27.

NASA does not currently have any capability to send cargo (or crews) to the ISS itself.   Cargo is delivered about four times a year by Russian Progress spacecraft and about once a year by Europe's ATV or Japan's HTV.   In May, the U.S. company SpaceX successfully demonstrated the ability to deliver cargo on a commercial basis with its Dragon spacecraft, though NASA provided part of the funding to develop SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon.  NASA hopes to begin regular ISS cargo service using Dragon later this year.   NASA also is providing funding to help Orbital Sciences Corp. develop a competing commercial cargo system that could be operational next year.

Editor's note:    JAXA news releases showed that the launch would be at 11:18 am local time in Japan (10:18 pm ET) until a few hours before launch.  At that time, it adjusted the launch time to 11:06:18, which conformed with the time NASA had been reporting.  Presumably the earlier JAXA news releases contained a typographical error.


Former KSC Director Forrest McCartney Succumbs to Cancer

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Jul-2012 (Updated: 18-Jul-2012 01:38 PM)

Lt. Gen. Forrest McCartney (Ret.), a former director of NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC), lost his battle with pancreatic cancer yesterday. 

Born in Fort Payne, Alabama in 1931, McCartney rose through the Air Force ranks after receiving his commission through the Reserve Officer Training Corp and joining the regular Air Force in 1952.   With a master's degree in nuclear engineering, he spent a significant part of his Air Force career involved in missile and space programs, including early work on the then-classified Corona reconnaissance satellite program and a multitude of assignments to other satellite programs that eventually led to his assignment as Commander of Air Force Space Division.  He was promoted to Lieutenant General in 1983.

In 1986, following the space shuttle Challenger tragedy, then-NASA Administrator James Fletcher asked McCartney to serve as KSC Director.   He had been closely involved in planning for the space shuttle flights from Vandenberg Air Force Base that were anticipated at the time (but later scrapped).    From October 1, 1986-August 31, 1987 he was detailed from the Air Force.  He then retired from the Air Force and formally became KSC director that year, serving in that position until December 31, 1991.

He later became vice president of launch operations for Lockheed Martin Astronautics.

An Air Force biography is available on Air Force Space Command's website.  McCartney participated in an oral history interview in 2001 that is posted on KSC's website in which he describes his career in some detail, especially his time at KSC.

Events of Interest


Subscribe to Email Updates:

Enter your email address: